The Louisville Colonels were a Major League Baseball team that played in the American Association throughout that league's ten-year existence from 1882 until 1891, first as the Louisville Eclipse (1882–1884) and later as the Louisville Colonels (1885–1891), the latter name derived from the historic Kentucky colonels. They then joined the National League after the AA folded and played through the 1899 season. It was also the name of several minor league baseball teams that played in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 20th century.
After spending several years as a well-known semi-pro team, the Eclipse joined the new American Association in 1882. The team's backer, local distiller J. H. Pank, was named vice-president of the AA, and the team was to be run by a consortium led by W. L. Lyons. Accompanying them to the major leagues was their star player, infielder Pete Browning, who had already achieved some measure of local fame. The team got off to a good start, finishing in second place that first season. That would be their best finish for several seasons.
Ownership troubles were also afoot, as managing partner Lyons resigned in mid-1888, with team secretary Mordecai Davidson taking over. The following season, the team sank to a 27–111 record and a last place finish, and Davidson surrendered control of the team to the AA. A rare feat was made in the 1896 season when the Colonels lost five straight games in two days, including a tripleheader on September 7 and a doubleheader the next day, all against the Baltimore Orioles. With the prohibition of triple headers in the early 1920s, this record stands permanent. Three years later, the 1889 Colonels were the first team in major-league history to lose 100 games in a season.
The next season, the team, which had been purchased by Barney Dreyfuss, would bounce back with a vengeance. The Colonels won the 1890 pennant in the AA, during a season in which the league was considered only the third-best behind the NL and the Players' League, and appeared in an early version of the World Series which resulted in three wins for each team. Following up on their last place finish the previous year, they became the one and only team to rise from the cellar to the pennant in one season.
In 1892 the team moved to the National League when the original, major league American Association dissolved, and played there until 1899. In 1900 Dreyfuss acquired controlling interest of the Pirates and brought 14 Colonels players with him, including future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, marking the end of the original Colonels organization and Louisville as a Major League Baseball host city.
In September 1882, Louisville pitchers threw two no-hitters in the span of nine days; Tony Mullane on Sept. 11, followed by Guy Hecker on Sept. 19. Other Louisville pitchers who threw no-hitters were Ben Sanders on August 22, 1892, and Deacon Phillippe, a rookie, on May 25, 1899. Pete Browning hit for the cycle twice for Louisville, on Aug. 8, 1886 and June 7, 1889.
Notable Colonels players
- Pete Browning (outfielder)
- Fred Clarke (outfielder–manager)*
- Harry Davis (first baseman–manager)
- Jerry Denny (third baseman)
- Jack Glasscock (shortstop)
- Dummy Hoy (center fielder)
- Ezra Midkiff (third baseman–manager)
- Hughie Jennings (shortstop)*
- Tony Mullane (pitcher)
- Honus Wagner (shortstop)*
- Rube Waddell (pitcher)*
- Deacon Phillippe (pitcher)
* – denotes Louisville Colonels player in the Hall of Fame